The “seeker-centered church” has been one of the most popular methods of structuring the local church in the last few decades here in the USA. The idea is to gear your church service toward “seekers”—people showing interest in God and other spiritual matters. Teach them appealing spiritual truths; then, when you’ve hooked them, tell them about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There’s a lot of good there, since these methods reflect a desire to advance the gospel and avoid becoming ingrown. When we look at the life of Jesus, however, there are times when his methods are the antithesis of “seeker centering.” The guy just didn’t put a lot of stock in marketing. Today, we see one of these odd incidents that reveal the upside-down mindset of Jesus.
This young man is the ideal “seeker.” He comes running up to Jesus and delivers him a golden opportunity when he asks the question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Any evangelist worth his salt would be salivating right about now.
But instead of leading him through the Romans Road, Jesus latches onto the man’s first two throwaway words: “Why do you call me good?” This young man, who doesn’t recognize Jesus’ divinity, is yet quick to call him good. But Jesus is not so flippant. “No one is good except God alone—you know the commandments.” He rattles off a list of rules, drawn from the famous Ten Commandments of Moses. But rather than being humbled by his failure to keep the law, the young man naïvely replies, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
Now, Jesus isn’t mad at the young man for making such a bold statement. Mark records at this point that he looks right at man and loves him. And because he loves him, he chooses to deliver a necessary but brutal answer to the man’s first question. The man knows deep down in his soul that he lacks something to inherit eternal life. Jesus confirms, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” It sounds like a lot of things, but really it’s one thing. Jesus is telling the man, “When it comes to the law, you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s. You’re a fine young man—on the outside. But your heart is not with me; it’s still latched onto this world. You need to transfer all your investments into my heavenly kingdom. In your case, that means selling everything you have and giving it to the poor. To be my follower, you can no longer be self-reliant, clinging to wealth to maintain your power, your prestige, and your security.”
The young man is crushed. Jesus is a master surgeon, and he has cut to the man’s heart. The man finds that his zeal is ebbing. He leaves, dejected and disappointed. There is a price for eternal life that he is not willing to pay.
Then Jesus pulls out this stunner: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus’ disciples are shocked at this statement. Like us, they think of the powerful and affluent as the ones whom God favors. There are many “prosperity” preachers who teach this exactly. And we unconsciously hold the mindset that Christians in wealthy countries such as the USA are superior saints to Christians in third-world countries. But Jesus contradicts us and then takes it a step further. Not only is it difficult for anyone to enter God’s kingdom, but “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are horrified. “Then who can be saved?” they ask.
Jesus does offer a glimmer of hope: “All things are possible with God.” But the fact remains that if you’re a Westerner (and therefore rich), you’re in a very dangerous position. There are many countries in which it’s difficult to be a Christian, and Western countries are some of the most difficult. Why? Because it’s so easy to be independent and self-reliant. It’s so easy for an American to depend on his checking account or take pride in his house or show off his fancy new iPhone. Our wealth and comfort and ease numb us to our neediness. Like the church in Laodicea, we say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” not realizing that we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). We are helpless like little children, and we need the divine power of Jesus. Wealth is not bad, but it obscures our neediness; it is the soil in which a wicked self-reliance takes root.
Now, Peter senses an opportunity for advancement. “We have left everything and followed you,” he reminds Jesus. In his reply, Jesus affirms that such sacrifice will not go unrewarded. His disciples will receive “a hundredfold now in this time” as they join the precious community of faith that Jesus will found. But he warns that in this age they will also receive persecutions, and that the greatest prize—eternal life—belongs to “the age to come.” Then he adds, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Peter, because of his desire to be the greatest, is in danger of demoting himself to the lowest rank in God’s kingdom.
That’s the way God’s kingdom works. Jesus came to be rejected and killed, to be a suffering servant, to be dependent on his Father and do his will. He wants followers who will be dependent and Christ-reliant. If you life in a Western nation, consider it a handicap, and consider that you are surrounded by temptations that will bleed the desire for eternal life right out of your heart.